Britain, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, wants to send migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda while their cases are processed. The bill is a way for Rishi Sunak to gain access to right-wing voters and thus win the election, according to SOAS professor Phil Clark. Photo: Sandor Csudai. Source: Melaine Phillips.

FUF-correspondents, Report

Professor on sending asylum seekers to Rwanda: "Act of desperation"

Despite setbacks in the Supreme Court and criticism from civil society, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak continues to push the bill to forcibly transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda.
- This is the most extreme measure to outsource the migration system. It is the global North that cleans itself at the expense of refugees, says Phil Clark, professor of international politics at SOAS University of London.

On 14 April 2022, the UK government introduced “Rwanda Plan” for the public – which allows the UK to send migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda while their cases are processed, as Uttvekklingsmagasinet has previously reported if. However, so far no one has been sent to Rwanda due to legal disputes within the UK and EU legal system. The first scheduled flight in June 2022 was canceled at the last second due to objections from the European Court.

In November 2023, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the bill is illegal citing that Rwanda is not a safe country to send asylum seekers to because of the country's human rights abuses. However, the bill was approved by the House of Commons - which is the primary legislator in the UK - in January 2024, which is a step closer to the implementation of the Rwanda Plan. The bill will next be debated by the UK House of Commons before it can become law.

- This bill is a desperate attempt by Rishi Sunak to garner more votes before the 2024 election and a reason why the election has not yet been called, says Phil Clark, professor of international politics at SOAS University in London.

Phil Clark, professor of international politics at SOAS University of London, believes that things look bleak for the Tory party ahead of this year's election, and that Sunak is using the Rwanda Plan to attract votes. Photo/source: SOAS University of London.

It is the incumbent party that chooses when within a five-year period the next election will take place. 

- If Rishi Sunak could get a person on board a plane to Rwanda, he would call an election a few days later, says Phil Clark.

Rishi Sunak ran for the role of Prime Minister for the Tory Party in late 2022 with five election promises. One of them was that "stop the boats", which referred to migrants trying to cross the English Channel to Britain.

- It doesn't look bright for the Tory party ahead of the election later this year. This bill is a way for Rishi Sunak to reach right-wing voters and thereby increase his chances of winning the election, says Phil Clark.

UNHCR: UK is evading its international commitments

The proposal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has been criticized by, among others, human rights organizations, British lawmakers and Rwandan opposition politicians. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Rwandan opposition leader, is one of the few who has publicly expressed concern about the proposal, citing the human rights abuses occurring in Rwanda.

- I could only express my opinion on the bill on social media, foreign publications and channels because local media did not dare to give me the platform, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza tells The Guardian.

In a television interview in early February there was a £1 bet between Rishi Sunak and British journalist Piers Morgan. The bet was that Rishi Sunak would do everything in his power to deport migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda. This received widespread criticism from several opposition parties.

The betting on the Rwanda Plan was widely criticized by politicians in the UK. Photo: Simon Walker. Source: Flickr.

- The lives of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet are reduced to a crude betting game. It's just a game to these people. Shame, says Stephen Flynn, politician within the SNP party.

"Not many people face rising mortgages, bills and food prices and blow around £1 on betting," says Jonathan Ashworth, Labor Party politician, referring to the ongoing cost of living crisis in the country.

The UNHCR is one of the organizations that has expressed concern about the bill and called on the UK to refrain from sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. The proposal means that the country shifts responsibility and avoids international commitments, and the plan is not compatible with the UN refugee convention, says UNHCR.

The UK government has so far paid 140 million pounds in the form of an advance payment to the Rwandan government, despite that the bill has not yet been approved.

- This indicates further desperation by Rishi Sunak to implement the bill and increase his chances of winning the election, Phil Clark points out.

According to Phil Clark, the problem with the Rwanda Plan is not whether Rwanda is safe - as the country has taken in around 130 000 refugees from neighboring countries.

- It is about the global North avoiding its international commitments by shifting responsibility to the global South, he explains.

Demonstration in London calling for Rishi Sunak to drop the proposal to forcibly transfer migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda. Photo: Alisdare Hickson. Source: Flickr.
Similar bills on the table for several countries

Sending asylum seekers to third countries is not unusual. Australia has for decades sent asylum seekers to the island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where asylum seekers have testified that their human rights have been systematically violated. This could become a reality for people who make it to the UK, as Rishi Sunak is determined to implement the bill.

- By shifting responsibility to countries in the Global South, Western states "protect" their own borders from unwanted and illegal immigration, says Phil Clark.

Also the Danish government confirmed in early 2020 that it had opened talks with Rwanda about sending asylum seekers to the "Heart of Africa". However, Denmark is holding off on the process to see if the Rwanda Plan will be implemented in the UK.

Rwanda is described as “Singapore of Africa” because of the country's low level of corruption, the high level of security, the country's focus on strengthening international relations and the aspiration to become Africa's business hub. Rwanda is therefore a desirable country for the West to cooperate with. In connection with the right-wing populist wave in Europe, there is a risk of a domino effect in that more countries in the global north recreate similar bills, says Phil Clark.

- We see a trend where more Western states, including Austria and France, want to introduce this type of law. It would be a disaster in the sense that the global North shifts its responsibility to the global South, underlines Phil Clark. He continues:

- In the long term, it is not sustainable to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, also due to the climate changes that are hitting the landlocked nation hard.

The Refugee Convention

UN: s flantern convention, which was established in 1951, defines who is a refugee and which legal protection, rights and assistance a refugee should get. 

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